Cephisia was a deme of ancient Attica. It was the home of the famous dramatist Menander (circa 342-291 BC). Cephisia had become a famous retreat of philosophers during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian, when the wealthy Herodes Atticus of Marathon, Greece built the Villa Cephisia. In his Attic Nights, Aulus Gellius describes the unique ambiance of intellectual ferment and aristocratic leisure in an idyllic setting which he created there. It was also the practice of Herodes to provide free instruction in philosophy for selected youths from Athens. The remains of some of his family funeral monuments lie at the centre of the town in Platonas Square. He also beautified a sanctuary to the Nymphs in the ravine of Kokkinara, in the nearby district of Kefalari.
The history of Kifisia during the medieval period is obscure, but the remains of a monastery church dedicated to the Virgin of the Swallow (Panagia Chelidonas) is associated with a story about a battle fought there between local people and unspecified "invaders". This chapel is a rare example of a monastery church originally provided with a fireplace, for the chimney remains.
During Ottoman period, in 1667, Kifisia was visited by the Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi. He described a small country town set in a fertile plain of paradisaic beauty, with three hundred tile-roofed houses. Half the inhabitants of the town were Muslims and half were Christians. He records that there was a single mosque, without a minaret, and many small Christian chapels - some of which survive today.
Post Greek Independence
The temperature in Kifisia tends to be significantly lower than that of the city, so following the independence of Greece, it quickly became a summer resort of the ruling class of the new state.
Its popularity faded somewhat during the middle of the Nineteenth Century when the danger of raids by brigands who infested the nearby mountains was very real. However, the suppression of brigandage, and the arrival of the railway in 1885, led to the dramatic development of the area.
It became the fashion for wealthy Athenian families to build summer houses in Kifisia, and keen social competition led to the creation of a unique architectural ambiance, as villas in ever more exotic styles proliferated. For those unable to afford a summer house, many hotels were built, where the slightly less affluent could spend the holiday months rubbing shoulders with their social betters.
The heyday of Kifisia was probably during the inter-war period, when the leaders of the two main rival political parties frequented different hotels in the town together with their most important supporters.
World War II and Civil War
Following the liberation of Greece from German occupation in 1944, the British Royal Air Force ill-advisedly made its headquarters in Kefalari, taking over several hotels. With the outbreak of the Greek Civil War, the RAF personnel were first besieged, then forced to surrender, and marched across the mountains into northern Greece; being released in Trikala only after a truce had been arranged.